Security tighter than ever as NASA counts down toward Thursday launch

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Security is tighter than ever as NASA counts down toward a launch of space shuttle Endeavour on a mission to deliver new residents to the international space station.

Even more surveillance and safeguards will be in place by the time Endeavour is fueled and seven astronauts are on board for Thursday evening's liftoff. It will be the first space shuttle mission conducted while the country is at war.

``What needs to be done has been done and is being done and will be done for the safety and security of the folks here at this space center,'' NASA test director Jeff Spaulding said Tuesday. The countdown clocks began ticking late Monday.

Spaulding would not provide any details about the extra security at Kennedy Space Center put in place as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But Air Force Maj. Michael Rein of the nearby 45th Space Wing said fighter jets would be in the air and powerful plane-tracking radar in use on the ground.

Also on Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new flight restrictions for launch day. General air traffic will be prohibited within 35 miles of Endeavour's pad _ an area six times larger than usual _ and planes passing between 35 and 46 miles of the pad will require clearance from air traffic controllers and need to maintain continuous contact. The restrictions will remain in force almost all day.

Forecasters say rain or thunderstorms could delay the 7:41 p.m. launch. The chance of acceptable weather is 60 percent, improving dramatically on Friday.

Endeavour will drop off one Russian cosmonaut and two American astronauts at the international space station, and bring back the three men who have been living there since August.

The next space station team _ commander Yuri Onufrienko and Carl Walz and Daniel Bursch _ will remain on board until May. They will be the fourth crew to inhabit the orbiting outpost.

The shuttle also will take up station supplies and science experiments, and carry more than 6,000 U.S. flags in tribute to all those killed by terrorists in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Following Endeavour's 11-day mission, the small flags will be mounted on certificates and presented to families of the victims and survivors of the tragedy.

Also flying on Endeavour: New York City police badges and patches in honor of officers who died at the World Trade Center, and a New York Fire Department flag and poster showing the slain firefighters.

``It shows our resolve and the fact that we press on with our day-to-day lives and keep doing the great things that we're doing here for the space program,'' mission manager Todd Corey said. ``I think that makes a pretty positive statement for the whole country.''